Universities Compete to Secure Future Online Voting

Kaspersky Lab challenged teams to create blockchain-based security technology for digital voting systems.

It’s been a few weeks since the ballots were cast, counted and reported on in the last U.S. presidential election, yet it remains newsworthy. One reason for this is the discussions around cybersecurity, and the potential interference in the electoral process through talk of tampering or changing digitally-cast votes.

Kaspersky Lab set out to help secure future digital voting mechanics through a university competition involving blockchain technology and the ingenuity of students studying software or electronics engineering and cybersecurity.

Blockchain technology is thought by many to be a new way of maintaining cyber security in an increasingly digital age, as proven through the development and distribution of Bitcoin.

This technology works through the use of a database of encoded blocks of information, which check against other linked blocks for discrepancies and errors. If something is out of place, it isn’t recorded into the relevant blocks, and is not made a part of the database. This makes it very difficult to enter in unwanted information – and potentially ideal for securing digital voting systems.

Kaspersky has recognized three universities as the winners in the competition, each offering different ways of integrating blockchain into the voting system.

1st Place – New York University

NYU’s submission was to use a “permissioned blockchain” configuration, in which a central authority admits voting machines to the network prior to the start of the election, followed by voting machines acting autonomously to build a public, distributed ledger of votes. Ideally, this would address threats to the integrity of the system, and allow voters to tell if their individual vote was counted.

2nd Place – University Of Maryland, College Park’s Maryland Cybersecurity Center

The University of Maryland’s solution was to use global public keys that encrypt ballots and provide voter receipts using randomly generated numbers. The university’s proposal also features cryptographic tree data structures that allow citizens to check if their vote was counted.

3rd Place – Newcastle University

This submission proposed a solution rooted in three protocols: the Open Vote Network, DRE-i and DRE-ip. This would involve changes to Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines themselves, with more secure networks and ballot authentication.

Each winning team received a cash prize, and recognition on The Economist’s Which MBA? site, which hosted the competition.

“The challenges of cybersecurity mean the next generation of experts face a changing frontier,” said Eugene Kaspersky, chairman and CEO of Kaspersky Lab.

“There will be plenty of things to work on, and securing digital voting systems for national elections is just one example. If cybercriminals exploited one small vulnerability, it could potentially change the course of a nation’s history, and these young scholars are bringing us one step closer to making secure digital voting a reality.”

Secure voting is only one way cybersecurity has an impact on the future digital landscape. From manufacturing to hobby and commercial drones, there is a need for trained cybersecurity specialists in the future.

For more information, visit Which MBA?’s coverage of the competition, or see how millennials are taking an interest in the field.